(NEW YORK)– PEN America today welcomes the decision by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to roll back its recently promulgated  “approved vendors” policy for books. The free expression and literary organization had strongly criticized the policy as censorious, due to its potential to limit books distributed in prisons.

Following an earlier statement, PEN America said policies that limit reading materials for incarcerated people constitute censorship.

The Texas Criminal Justice Department had not announced its new “approved vendor” policy on its website or through any media. Instead, prison book programs and the medical journal Prison Health News became aware of the shift upon receiving returned mail with “No longer approved vendor” written in black marker on the exterior of book packages. 

Nonprofits also began receiving an email message from TDCJ which reneged their original demands that only 25 nonprofit distributors would be approved to serve the 100 prisons in Texas that house 128,712 people

An email message sent to these nonprofits from Tim Jones said: “These organizations can resume sending their books to TDCJ units where they will undergo increased inspections and then be provided to the designated receiver.”

Moira Marquis, senior manager of PEN America’s Freewrite Project, said: “Any effort to limit literacy and access to information is censorship, which should not be the mechanism prisons use to enforce any goal they have. We are relieved that the Texas corrections agency has backed down on a proposal that would interfere with people engaging in such a beneficial activity as reading.”

PEN America will continue to advocate for correctional departments to protect the First Amendment rights of incarcerated people and recognize that censorship is inconsistent with a free society. 

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org